As you may already know, the word “trinity” is nowhere found in Scripture. Instead, the doctrine of the Trinity was formulated as the Church fathers, under the guidance of the Holy Spirit, diligently digested, discussed, and described the ways that God has revealed himself in the Bible. Far from being a monolithic, logical, easily understandable yet distant being; what they found was a complex, mysterious, humanly incomprehensible yet personal being. Who would want to worship a god who was monolithic, fully accessible to human logic, fully understandable, and distant? Not me. But a God who is complex, mysterious, beyond human ability to fully comprehend, yet personally knowable? Now that is a God I want to worship! If nothing else, the triune nature of God is cause for awestruck worship.
We often take for granted that God is triune (millennia of theological reflection will do that to you). But we must not forget that the early church did not have thousands of years of Biblical reflection from “A-list” theologians like Augustine, Aquinas, and Anselm. Although they did have Athanasius, praise God! (more on him later) Thus, what we take for granted was the very thing that men spent their entire lives trying to describe, define and defend.
As the early church endeavored to describe God as he revealed himself in the Bible from Genesis to Revelation, there were many often well-meaning people (such as Sabellius) who proposed ideas about God and his nature that seemed logical and understandable, but were in direct contradiction to God’s self-revelation in the Bible. On the other hand, there were other people (such as Athanasius) who proposed ideas about God that did in fact harmonize well with God’s self-revelation in the Bible. Feeling a strong need to formally accept the Biblical ideas and reject the unbiblical ones, the church fathers formulated the ancient creeds at ecumenical (universal) church councils. A prime example being the formulation of the Nicene Creed in 325 AD at the council of Nicea.
As was noted in earlier posts, many of the challenges that Islam poses to Christian doctrine are not new. Instead, these theological issues were dealt with centuries before Islam ever came into existence. It is my hope that a closer look at some of the theological issues surrounding the Trinity and the Person of Christ will help followers of Christ to better understand their own faith so that they can articulate these crucial issues well to their Muslim friends. Thus it is to these incredibly relevant theological issues from Church history that we now turn...